When Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass suggested the district consider adding a new arts school last fall, not everyone was happy.
“The announcement got a big reaction from community as well as teachers,” said Hope Hosier, choir and theater teacher at Wayne Carle Middle School.
While some families were excited by the idea, others were concerned that arts funding might be diverted to the arts school, leaving neighborhood school arts programs with less. Parents and teachers also told school board members that strong arts students and teachers might leave neighborhood schools for the new arts school.
In response, 30 Jeffco art, music, and theater teachers were tapped to serve on an Arts Advisory Team to determine the feasibility of an arts school. The team discussed the proposed school as well as current needs of art, theater and music programs throughout the district.
“This is the first time arts teachers and upper administration have gotten together to talk about the arts and what we do,” said Lee Andres, who retired as Jeffco’s music curriculum coordinator in May.
The outcome was a districtwide, three-year plan — including a potential school for visual and graphic arts.
“It was 90 people who went from pitchforks to pompoms. We came in and we were like, ‘No arts school. No arts school,'” Hosier said. “We left saying, ‘Oh my goodness. We’re so excited about the future of support of arts in our district.'”
The advisory team presented their recommendations to the Jeffco School Board at the June 7 meeting.
Jeffco arts school still a possibility
A school for the arts is “still on the docket,” according to Matt Flores, chief academic officer. Although many details remain undecided, he said it would likely be a school focused on visual arts and graphic design. If it becomes reality, it could open as early as the 2019-20 school year.
The district is currently assembling a committee of visual arts and graphic design teachers to discuss next steps, including a location for the school, he said. One possibility is the former Sobesky building in Lakewood, because it is a central location.
Flores said that any final decision would be dependent on direction from the Jeffco School Board.
“We will have widespread communication in late fall or early winter about what that might look like or where we are in the plan,” Flores said.
Three-year Strategic Arts Plan
The advisory team organized their recommendations into three phases. The first phase, which is currently being implemented for the 2018-19 year, addresses marketing support, programming expectations, middle school arts coordination, and establishes a full-time theater coordinator.
The second phase includes a possible school for visual arts and graphic design. It also recommends additional support to coordinate and build systematic approaches to arts electives and programming. Another recommendation includes additional support for art, music, and theater specialists like accompanists, choreographers, and tech directors.
The committee also suggested that Jeffco allocate $100,000 annually to maintain and replace lighting and sound equipment, musical instruments, and visual arts and graphic design equipment.
The third phase of the plan largely concerns improving equity in arts programming across the district so that all students have access to strong arts, music, and theater opportunities. One recommendation calls for assigning art, music, and PE teachers to no more than two schools so that they have time to build programs at those schools.
What will change this year?
First, the Jeffco community will see more communication about upcoming shows, concerts, and theater performances. Phase one recommends supporting marketing for Jeffco arts, music, and theater teachers.
The community needs better access to all the arts opportunities within Jeffco, Flores explained. Often, Jeffco residents would like to attend a high school theater production or concert, but don’t know when performances are scheduled.
Jeffco’s communication department will provide teachers with templates and tools for marketing arts events. They will also partner with teachers to notify the Jeffco community about upcoming concerts, art shows, and theater programs.
Phase one also adds a theater coordinator this year to better support theater programming, especially in middle school, Flores said.
Previously, theater was part of the music coordinator’s role. Now, a dedicated theater coordinator will work to coordinate resource sharing. In addition, the coordinator will strengthen theater programming at all levels throughout the district.
This year, the theater coordinator will largely focus on middle schools, which typically offer only one or two elective theater classes, Flores explained. One of the coordinator’s tasks will be to work with middle school theater teachers to better align theater content with Jeffco’s curriculum and content standards.
“Theatre helps students understand the human condition in an interactive way,” said Tami LoSasso, Jeffco Schools theater coordinator. “It helps develop empathy, understanding, collaboration, and accountability.”
“Theatre is a key subject in helping students obtain soft skills necessary for effective interpersonal interactions, and can eventually help them achieve workplace success,” she added.
In addition, LoSasso will provide mentoring and support so that new theater teachers can learn from other teachers. She will also organize professional learning communities so teachers can share ideas and best practices, Flores said.
All three phrases will improve resources and support for the arts throughout the district.
The plan supports the arts in a more systematic way throughout the district to make sure that all areas can have strong arts programming, Flores said.